New pool for Prince Albert?

Tyler Clarke
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In the lead-up to the 2012 civic election, then-councillor Greg Dionne championed fundraising efforts to keep the Marion Aquatics pool afloat.


Mayor Greg Dionne speaks at the State of the City Address on Jan. 16.

Now one year into his mayorship, Dionne is pushing for a new municipal pool, having made his stance known at last week’s State of the City Address.

Although mixed feelings have followed Dionne’s address, Prince Albert Sharks Swim Club head coach Roger Boucher said that a new pool is only a matter of time.

“For our club, it’s definitely at capacity,” he said of the roughly 50-member organization’s use of the Frank J. Dunn Pool. “ We couldn’t have many more swimmers in our club, just because of how much time we have and how much space.”

On top of that, he notes that the outdoor Kinsmen Water Park is also on its last legs and will close “unless (the city) sinks a whole bunch of money into it.”

The Prince Albert Sharks Swim Club is advocating for not only one pool, but two.

The larger of the two would consist of 10 50-metre lanes -- a length often referred to as “Olympic-sized.”

The other pool would be a warmer general-use facility that includes things like waterslides.

These two pools -- separated by a wall to ensure both can operate without interrupting one another -- would serve the city well into the future, Boucher explained.

Such forward thinking is important, since it might be some time before a new pool is constructed -- a building process that once started might in itself take a few years.

“We are going to be trying to get support for a new pool from the user groups and start fundraising for it, ideally,” he said.

While Dionne joins the Prince Albert Sharks Swim Club in advocating for a new pool, not everyone on council joins in aquatics-centred enthusiasm, with Coun. Lee Atkinson the most vocal opponent since the mayor’s Jan. 16 address.

With the new pool idea “vented around for a while, now,” Atkinson said that he’d be 100 per cent in favour of a new pool if it were 100 per cent user-funded.

But, he’s not holding his breath.  

As residents have seen with the Alfred Jenkins Field House, not only did taxpayers fund a portion of the facility’s construction cost through a tax levy of about five per cent, they’ve funded its ongoing operation costs.

Although city finance director Joe Day didn’t have 2013 numbers at his immediate disposal this week, 2012 budget documents reveal that taxpayers funded the facility to the tune of $447,090 that year.

At the time, city council approved a 2013 contribution of $458,620 -- an amount that covers about 49 per cent of the $939,230 it cost to maintain and operate the facility, with user fees covering the 51 per cent balance.

This falls into the 40 per cent cost recovery goal set by the city council of 1995 -- a means of keeping fees low enough “so that all children are able to participate, regardless of circumstance," past mayor Jim Scarrow explained during the 2006 election.

The Frank J. Dunn Pool was budgeted to operate at a comparatively dismal 29 per cent cost recovery in 2013, with taxpayers covering $426,190 of its budgeted $597,700 operation cost.

Citing a number of city facilities already stretching tax dollars over a wide area, Atkinson cautions, “Every new thing divides that pie up even smaller, so unless you’re willing to turn off some things and add some new ones, the costs are additional costs.”

In last year’s budget, the facilities that were set to boast the greatest taxpayer-funded gaps between the cost of operating and revenue included the Art Hauser centre at $632,270, the E. A. Rawlinson Centre and Mann Art Gallery at $469,710 and the Margo Fournier Centre at $215,790.

If you spend your dollars on wants rather than needs, you find that your needs are deficit. Lee Atkinson

Although the overall cost recover was over 40 per cent, Atkinson questions this number since things like water, gas and electricity are not always factored in -- particularly water use.

“If the subsidization doesn’t include all of the real costs, or doesn’t include the factor of a reserve for capital improvements or improvement or maintenance on a building, then really, are you factoring in all of the costs?”

While the operation cost deficit is placed on the municipal mill rate, the cost of construction can be another matter.

With the Alfred Jenkins Field House, a five per cent tax levy was created, city finance director Joe Day said, noting that city coffers are paying back money borrowed from the city’s reserves.

With the facility expected to be paid off with the 2015 levy it will be up to council to decide whether to end the levy or continue it for another facility, such as a new municipal pool.

“I suspect some of (the members of council) are already thinking about whether they should or should not progress that way, but there hasn’t been any official discussion yet,” Day said.

Regardless of how council would fund such a facility, Day said that there’s no question that it would have to be paid for over a period of time.

“I can’t imagine anything that could be built within the next few years that the city would be able to find the funding for upfront.”


Recreation facilities a priority?


With Dionne expressing interest in a new pool and recognizing a public desire for a new hockey arena to replace the Art Hauser Centre he has also sparked discussion around priorities.

“Recreation facilities -- are those really our core service?” Atkinson asked. “Quite frankly, all of these things aren’t universally utilized,” he said.

“If you spend your dollars on wants rather than needs, you find that your needs are deficit.”

Last month, Dionne told the Daily Herald that the city faces a $71 million backlog in underground infrastructure work.

"This is accumulation of years of not funding the program to do the upgrades, so it's not one council's problem, it was probably 10 councils' problem," he said at the time.

“Certainly, there will be champions for facilities people may or may not want, but I don’t think there will be any champions for, ‘We need a new sewer trunk line on whatever street there might be,’” Atkinson said. “I don’t think there will be any citizens fundraising for that.”

Destination Marketing Fund executive director Jayne Remenda recently told the Daily Herald that the city’s wealth of sport and cultural facilities are what bring in the majority of visitors.

Canadian visitors contribute an average economic impact of $105 million in Prince Albert -- a figure that doesn’t factor in foreign guests.

The city’s elected officials have yet to make any formal plans for a hockey arena or swimming pool.

It’s anticipated that 2014 budget discussion meeting dates will be made public in the near future. 

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